The Case for Downloading Music from YouTube

Miris

[2022-03-11 Fri]

Quite often, the concept of downloading music from YouTube gets dismissed as a harmful choice. It's due to the fact that music on YouTube is frequently compressed in a lossy format, thus compromising the song's quality and fidelity. It's especially a problem when many songs are not only compressed by YouTube, but have been lossy in the first place.

Not only is it considered harmful, but also unnecessary. Streaming services are prevalent, with thousands of high-quality songs available right at your finger tips for relatively cheap prices. The audiophiles would go a step further and acquire their music in a lossless format with minimal degradation, if any, from the original source.

The difficulty of acquiring such high-quality music depends on the song or album in question - the rarity/obscurity being one of the factors. And this is where we must ask: for a rare or obscure song, would we rather have it in a lower quality, or not have it at all? Ideally, there shouldn't be a sacrifice in quality; however, in practice, many little-known songs simply cannot be found in the pristine, lossless quality many of us would desire.

Streaming services may offer a lot of songs, but of course they won't offer all songs. This is where YouTube is valuable: it can be a very accessible source for the overshadowed music which we won't easily find on other platforms. It is certainly pointless to download popular music from YouTube, but from personal experience, many people dismiss YouTube altogether as a source for downloading music. My confession to the cardinal sin of downloading music from YouTube has made a few audiophiles whiplash!

Why even download music from YouTube? In a nutshell, it's to protect them from an often inevitable disappearance. Esoteric songs and albums are often uploaded by individuals who don't own the IP; as such, many uploads get taken down due to copyright strikes. Depending on the music in question, it may not be easily found again. Indeed, OSTs for video games may be found on other websites or even official albums. Popular and classic music is abundantly uploaded everywhere.

But what about, say, anime OVAs from the 80s and 90s whose OSTs will never see an official release? It's what inspired this blog post. There was once a channel called Gundober, and it would upload hour-long compilations of many, many songs used in anime openings/endings from decades ago. Despite the songs being from old and often forgotten anime that won't generate any revenue today, the channel still got suspended. By virtue, all of the videos were gone, and countless hours, and hundreds upon hundreds of rare and nostalgic songs have vanished. One day, it was all there; the next day, completely gone and possibly never to be seen again.

For popular music that's accessible, it wouldn't be too much of a loss; however, for the hidden gems, copyright strikes truly shatters them into dust. Who knows if they could be found anywhere else, or if they can even be discovered in the first place? I'm certain that many people have discovered their favourite songs - and even entire albums, bands, or series - simply by stumbling upon these kinds of passionate uploads. And in an instant, all of that treasure is gone for the current souls and future discoverers.

We can avoid that by downloading the music in advance. We are advised to not download from YouTube because of the low quality, and that's a completely sound (ha!) advice. Going against that advise - in many people's eyes - means going against the pursuit of data preservation. But unconditionally listening to that advice is harmful to the music that cannot easily be found anywhere else. And because of that, it may practically disappear without warning. It's happened for a long time, and it will continue to happen without any end in sight. The principle applies to any data on any website, not just music on YouTube.

After all, tech corporations have no interest in permanently preserving anything except our personal data. It is up to each of us to preserve the data that truly matters: the one that nourishes our soul. This includes proactively preserving low fidelity media when no better alternatives exist. Lossy music from YouTube prevails over no music at all. Use YouTube as a last resort for downloading music, but don't dismiss it when there is no other choice. Preserve and protect what matters to you when others can't or won't.

Why does this blog post specifically focus on music on YouTube? Indeed, many other types of media - old-school software, ROMs, abandonware, files, etc., - face a similar risk of disappearance. Well, the concept of downloading music from YouTube is understandably controversial for music preservation purists, so hopefully this post will offer an alternative perspective. But above all, it's because the one thing that virtually all of us find enjoyment in, is listening to music, and thus any of us can be impacted by the loss of music.

It's tragic that for many of us, what brings us joy and unites us is at the hands of a singular entity. We can prevent that control - and thus a highly possible disappearance - by unconditionally downloading what's important to us. Even if it's not the ideal fidelity we all wish we could have, it's better than nothing. Disappearance will always be worse than degradation.